There seems to be very little of the blame-it-on-Hollywood backlash in the wake of the Colorado theater massacre that so often occurs when people struggle to make sense of a senseless, violent act.
Many agree that you simply can’t hold the art form itself responsible in the shooting that left 12 people dead and 58 others injured at a packed midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.” The alleged shooter, 24-year-old James Holmes, appeared in court Monday for the first time since the bloody attack of early Friday morning. While his hair was dyed the kind of bright, orange-red shade you might see in a comic book, authorities say it could take months to determine a motive.
Still, the film industry seems to recognize the potential for scrutiny and has shown sensitivity in response to the tragedy, if not some defensiveness.
Warner Bros., the studio that released the much-anticipated final piece in writer-director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, quickly pulled a trailer for its upcoming film “Gangster Squad,” which was playing in theaters before “The Dark Knight Rises.” The promo for the 1940s period film – which features a star-studded cast including Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin and Emma Stone – features a climactic scene in which mobsters fire automatic weapons into a movie theater audience from behind the screen.
But now there’s the problem of what to do with that scene when the film itself comes out Sept. 7. Trim it to make it less graphic? Edit it out entirely? Warner Bros. would not confirm Hollywood trade reports that the footage will be cut from the movie and a costly reshoot has been ordered to replace the theater scene.
The studio also canceled “The Dark Knight Rises” premieres in Paris, Mexico City and Tokyo as well as delayed reporting of its usual Sunday box office estimates out of respect for the victims, with other studios following suit. The film earned an impressive $160.9 million over the weekend, making it the biggest 2-D opening ever, but falling just short of expectations following the mass shooting.
And late Monday, Warner Bros. announced it was making a “substantial” yet undisclosed donation to victims of the shooting.
Finding the right tone going forward, especially when it comes to violent content, has been on the minds of industry leaders and performers alike since the deadly attack.
Asked whether Hollywood bore any responsibility for the violence in Colorado, producer and DreamWorks Studios co-founder David Geffen said: “I don’t think that’s true at all.”
“I think it’s a tragedy and to blame the movie business is incorrect and inappropriate,” Geffen said Sunday at the Television Critics Association meeting in Beverly Hills.
Diane Lane said during the same event that she doubts the content of “The Dark Knight Rises” provided inspiration. Among the film’s big, action set pieces are organized attacks on a stock exchange and a football stadium, but the violence features no blood.
“I think it’s just an opportunistic scenario,” the actress said. “I leave it to people who sit in rooms with diagrams and charts to try to correlate cause and effect. And I think hindsight is 20-20 and we’re not anywhere near hindsight. This is still fresh paint on the canvas of our culture and it remains to be seen. There’s a lot of healing to go on.”
Asked on Saturday whether the television business should cut down on violence in programming, PBS President Paula Kerger said: “We think about the images particularly that children see, and as we look at the programming that we design for our schedule – obviously, the programming that we produce is educational – but we think a lot about the images that particularly the most impressionable, and I would say that children are at the top of that list, are confronted with.”
And recording artist Will.i.am said before Sunday night’s Teen Choice Awards that responsibility for any sort of negative behavior begins at home with the parents rather than with the media.
“If you are not raising your kids to have balance in life, that is one place we have to look at,” he said.
Several recent films have depicted this sort of mass violence with sensitivity and sympathetic portrayals of the suspects’ families as they attempt to pick up the pieces afterward.
“We Need to Talk About Kevin” from 2011, starring Tilda Swinton as the mother of a tormented teenage boy who goes on a deadly rampage, tries to help us understand the nature of a sociopath as well as the lifelong struggle of parenting such a difficult child.
Also from last year, “Beautiful Boy” follows a husband and wife (Michael Sheen and Maria Bello) on the verge of separation whose marriage collapses entirely when their 18-year-old son goes on a killing spree at his college, then takes his own life. And Gus Van Sant’s artful, mesmerizing “Elephant” from 2003 tracks the lives of several ordinary high school students who are about to become targets of a Columbine-style shooting.
Vincent Grashaw, who produced and played a supporting role in last summer’s intense, graphic drama “Bellflower,” says he understands the need to find answers when a tragedy like this occurs. But he has no plans to soften the violence as he prepares to start production on his directorial debut, “Coldwater,” about a teenage boy’s struggle for survival in a wilderness juvenile reform center.
“As a filmmaker, when I hear people even utter questions like, `Should Hollywood tone it down in terms of violence on film?’ All I can do is just shake my head at this broad inquisition for it’s an easy and obvious target,” Grashaw said. “Having recently produced a pretty violent film and having seen the effect it had on many, I would be saddened if you were to harness anyone from that form of expression.”
By CHRISTY LEMIRE